Daily Archives: September 1, 2010

JazzWord review by Ken Waxman

Weightless – A Brush with Dignity (CF 154)
Atonal, audacious and admirable, Weightless is an irregularly constituted quartet made up of four top-flight improvisers: two from England and two from Italy. Recorded during two German gigs, the polyphonic expression is the result of the almost familial musical relationship between bassist John Edwards and saxophonist John Butcher on one side and pianist Alberto Braida and drummer Fabrizio Spera on the other.

Over the past few decades Butcher has sonically matched wits with everyone from British guitarist Derek Bailey to French clarinetist Xavier Charles. Edwards, one of London improv’s go-to bassists, has played with personalities as different as British saxophonist Evan Parker and American drummer Sunny Murray, while Lodi-based Braida and Spera have separately or alone linked up with stylists such as Canadian bassist Lisle Ellis and German synth master Thomas Lehn.

Although there are intimations of electricity here, no instrument is plugged into a socket. Instead the pulsating wave forms come from Braida’s internal piano string- exciting, Butcher’s multiphonics and overblowing plus the panoply of tones and textures the other two extract from their instruments. Furthermore, while perfectly balanced throughout, this group interaction doesn’t mean that any of the players sacrifice their individuality.

Case in point: “Termo”. Inaugurated full force with sul tasto bass string bowing, snapping and rebounding drum pressure, reversible cascading piano chords and the saxophone emitting fierce bird-like cawing, antithetical roles evolve by the mid-section. While Butcher’s frenetic wide vibrato, spetrofluctuation and flutter tonguing work into an interlude of circular breathing that is both harsh and airy, Braida’s confined comping and near-meditative chording suggest unruffled continuity. Meanwhile Spera’s cymbal resonation and Edwards’ powerful thumps are tonal enough to keep the time measured. Nonetheless, tonality is also in the ear of the listener. Throughout, it’s not that others don’t accelerate to tension-laden, stop-time interpolations, or that the saxophonist limits his solos to smeared chirps, growls and tongue stops or echoes partial tone extensions.

“Centri” for instance, which unrolls for more than 29½ minutes, demonstrates all sorts of improvisational strategies. The exposition works its way from bass string pings and drumstick squeaks on cymbal tops to a chromatic narrative that mixes aviary pitch variations from the reedist, snare ruffs, near legato bass string bowing and a dramatic two-handed, piano key-pumping that is as much prepared as poramento. Diffuse, wide-bore reed patterns exhibited with the caution tourists use to cross Italian streets, precede an extended pause where Jekyll-and-Hyde-like Butcher appears to split into two saxophonists: one playing straight-ahead and the other sounding buzzing split tones.

As the two sides of his reed personality meld, the tune almost become a rondo, with Braida producing dynamic harmonies, Spera press rolls and pops, and Edwards picking and slapping his strings. By the time the saxophonist has progressed to guttural intensity and overblowing, the pianist’s staccato chording sounds as if he’s playing a pressurized version of “Chop Sticks”. A sudden cymbal smack unites this melody to the invention’s final section following a further protracted pause. As the saxophonist rolls unexpected phrases in his mouth as if savoring a sweet treat, the pianist strums and counters with dynamic note clusters. Hesitant nerve beats and ruffs from Spera underline Butcher’s irregular flattement and vibrated ghost notes as the others’ contribution to the final variant, collapses the theme into an overriding segmented buzz.

Inventive and perfectly balanced whether legato or staccato, with solo tones or with layered timbres, the communication among the four isn’t weightless, but weighty is a good sense. Hopefully an encore CD is in the offing.

NPR Jazz Blog review by Patrick Jarenwattananon

The Best Jazz Of (Early) 2010 by Patrick Jarenwattananon
Over at NPR Music’s Take Five listening series, we’ve posted our team roundup of The Best New Jazz Of 2010 (So Far). Nick Francis of Jazz24, Shaunna Morrison Machosky of WDUQ and Josh Jackson of WBGO all chimed in, and there are picks from staff listeners me and Lars Gotrich. All are worthy choices to be sure. But what do you think? What have we missed? What are your favorite jazz records of 2010 so far? Let us know: leave us a comment, either here or on the Take Five page. [Take Five: A Weekly Jazz Sampler: The Best New Jazz Of 2010 (So Far)]
Personally speaking, if I were making a top five list for 2010 so far, I think it might include some of these following records — I’ll limit myself to ten:

Geri Allen and Timeline, Live (Motema): Part two of Allen’s dual releases in 2010 features a new quartet: long-time bassist Kenny Davis, new drummer Kassa Overall and tap-dance percussionist Maurice Chestnut. It’s no gimmick: this here is a real band, swirling in rhythm.
John Ellis and Double-Wide, Puppet Mischief (ObliqSound): Fun, tuneful and a little demented. All in a good way. Plus, when does John Ellis’ saxophone not brighten your day?
Jason Moran, Ten (Blue Note): The Bandwagon trio has been together 10 years now. Ten years! There was no agenda for this recorded document other than to document. There’s a lot to document. Again, hear it all here.
Steve Coleman and Five Elements, Harvesting Semblances And Affinities (Pi Recordings): Music that works on the “jazz nerds” level, but those who don’t naturally think in irregular meters may find themselves instinctually lurching along. More thoughts on this soon.
Scott DuBois, Black Hawk Dance (Sunnyside): A sleeper pick goes to a record that’s both in and out, and altogether lovely.
Chris Lightcap’s Bigmouth, Deluxe (Clean Feed): Lightcap, Tony Malaby, Chris Cheek, Craig Taborn, Gerald Cleaver and spots from Andrew D’Angelo: the lineup reads like an all-star game of musician’s musicians, except none of them, least of all the composer, are slacking.
Matthew Shipp, 4D (Thirsty Ear): This is shaping up to be quite a year for spell-inducing, half-abstracted solo piano.
Fight The Big Bull feat. Steven Bernstein, All Is Gladness In The Kingdom (Clean Feed): A post-modern jazz band with plenty of good ideas and a love for anything you could possibly call Southern music.
Mike Reed’s People, Places and Things, Stories and Negotiations (482 Music): New-school Chicago progressive improvisers meet old-school Chicago veterans, playing both old and new tunes. Their fire and swing is unbeholden to school.
Sarah Manning, Dandelion Clock (Posi-Tone): I just read that Manning’s day job is in real estate. Someone needs to get her more gigs so folks can hear her piercing saxophone tone live more often.

Gapplegate review by Grego Edwards

Peter Evans’ Brilliant Deconstruction of “All the Things You Are”

Peter Evans Quartet – Live in Lisbon (CF 173)
Trumpeter Peter Evans is to me without question one of the brightest new lights in the free-improv firmament today. He is a fabulous trumpeter. He can go the art of noise route with an incredible array of techniques to extend the instrumental possibilities of his instrument. He can play with the roots of the music in various ways too. The Peter Evans Quartet Live in Lisbon (Clean Feed 173) gives you the second Mr. Evans. And it is brilliant! Brilliant in conception. Brilliant in execution.

It’s Peter and a well equipped quartet that includes Ricardo Gallo, piano, Tom Blancarte, double bass, and Kevin Shea, drums. Much of the performance is a rather amazing go at turning “All the Things You Are” into something quite avant but retaining the harmonic and melodic features of the song as played by countless improvisers from the bop era on.

What they do defies easy description. Suffice to say that they fragment the theme and the harmonic base, rhythmically displace it to the point where it’s not displacement, it’s recomposition, and otherwise transform it into something entirely contemporary. And Peter’s trumpet playing must be heard here to be appreciated.

It’s one of the most interesting rethinkings of a standard I’ve ever heard. And it does not sound forced.

It is one of those CDs that will literally take you someplace NEW. It has the roots, but the tree has a very cool new look. Beautiful performance!!

Gapplegate Music review by Grego Edwards

Soulstorm: Ivo Perelman in Very Good Company

Ivo Perelman / Torbjörn Zetterberg / Daniel Levin – Soulstorm (CF 184)
Tenorman Ivo Perelman arrived in Portugal for a series of gigs and a recording session in April of 2009. He was slated to appear with an interesting configuration: Daniel Levin on the cello and Torbjorn Zetterberg on upright bass. It all culminated in the newly released two-CD set of the three improvising in the spirit of adventure and discovery.

The resulting release is dubbed (not inappropriately) Soulstorm (Clean Feed 184). This is concentrated, seriously intent music. The cello-bass-tenor combination gives the group sound a darkly expressive bent. All three get the chance to interact in depth and they succeed quite well in giving the music a spontaneous yet considered spin. Ivo clearly appreciates the chance to stretch out in such a context, and puts in some fine work. Daniel and Torbjorn respond with sometimes dense, vividly thick textures and a maelstrom of bowed and plucked sounds, sometimes building to a carpeted barrage of dissonance and energy.

This is not a causal listen sort of set. It demands your attention. It rewards in kind with improvisatory flights the likes of which one seldom hears. If you put three other very good improvisers in their places (on the same instruments) it might be very good as well, but it would not sound like this. The three have put an indelible stamp of identity on the music. Those willing to work their ears as hard in response as they did in execution will be the beneficiaries of what makes improv so interesting these days.